Are you Ready for the Holiday Marketing Season?

This blog post was written by Ray Sidney-Smith of W3 Consulting. It may come as a surprise from Small Business owners to start thinking about holiday marketing planning before Labor Day. But, now is the time to start planning the holiday marketing campaigns you want to be successful for this coming fall and winter holidays… Read more »

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This blog post was written by Ray Sidney-Smith of W3 Consulting.

It may come as a surprise from Small Business owners to start thinking about holiday marketing planning before Labor Day. But, now is the time to start planning the holiday marketing campaigns you want to be successful for this coming fall and winter holidays season. Alexandria Small Business Development Center hosted a series in partnership with Visit Alexandria about holiday marketing planning, as well as the Business Development Roundtable (which happens every third Tuesday at noon at the SBDC) just passed this week on “Planning Ahead for the Holidays.” Here are some of the vital thoughts about early holiday marketing planning.

Walkable towns: Alexandria, Va.

Choose Your Holidays Widely and Wisely

There are holidays happening almost every day of the year. (See also this list of holidays.) While some business owners might find some of these holidays off-putting, the importance of celebrating milestones and other timeframes throughout the year might be more palatable to them. Either way, there are times of the year when you need to be taking advantage of the marketing opportunities that avail themselves.

The most important holidays are the ones that pertain to your business/industry and directly include your target audience culturally, and hopefully also emotionally. For these holidays, choose wisely what you will do to be culturally sensitive (e.g., don’t post cat videos on National Dog Day to your dog-loving clients!?) and effective. You want marketing campaigns that will be highly effective for your goals (as we’ll discuss in a moment). While, you may wish to do smaller campaigns for holidays of lesser importance, where the holiday is not about your business/industry or your target audience, specifically, but more general that everyone can enjoy it (like World Wildlife Day).

Know Your Goals

“Know your goals” is not some fluff, self-improvement trope to dismiss immediately. (Okay, it can be in the wrong context.) But, here relating to your business’s bottom line, it’s not. You need to manage your goals and expectations as a small business owners, so you can manage your resources better and learn from your experience to succeed at business over time.

Knowing that the goal of increasing awareness and acknowledging the holidays to clients appropriately, as Peter Baldwin, MarketForce Strategies, noted during the Roundtable, provides him with clarity about what he needs to do for the holiday marketing season. This is important to understanding what kind of communications to send and other offerings a company like Peter’s wants to commit to and execute during the holidays season.

For retail business owners, this may be a prime selling opportunity, if your products or services cater to holiday buyers for gifts in honor of the holiday. So, your goals may include hitting a certain sales metric, bringing in particular amount of foot traffic, or donating a number of your products to a charity for good publicity. Whatever the goals are, now you can make a plan.

Map Out Your Plan and Share It With Your Team, Vendors and Other Stakeholders

Plan early for the holidays as the seasons come up on you too quickly. And, trying to plan and execute at the same time usually leads to shoddy campaigns that are ineffective, demotivate your marketing efforts for next year, and make holidays a chore instead of a celebration for you personally.

Plans for holiday marketing typically revolve around a timeline, so a calendar format for holiday marketing plans are usually most effective. You can choose a paper calendar posted in your office or shop for you and your staff to see together, or you can do so using digital tools like a shared Google Calendar or another online calendar of choice. Remember to include everyone who needs to know about the holiday marketing campaign(s) in the calendar, which can include not just staff, but also vendors, volunteers, family members, and other stakeholders who are responsible for helping execute the plan.

You can also set milestones in your plan, for every few weeks. These are opportunities to take stock in what has happened, correct course on where things might need to catch up and/or improve, celebrate successes, and then map out the detail for the next few weeks. This is helpful because it keeps everyone focused on short-term, achievable actions with each longer-term goal in mind.

These are some of the things you can think about for getting ready for the holiday marketing season(s). There are many more, that you can think about, and find other articles online that discuss this. Good luck with your holiday marketing campaigns this season! We hope you’re getting ready for them now.

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Alexandria Small Business Profile: fibre space

Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the Alexandria SBDC, interviews Danielle Romanetti, owner of fibre space, at her Old Town shop.   This video is part of a three-part series created for Small Business Month, featuring interviews with Alexandria small business owners about the growth of their businesses and their experience working with the Alexandria Small… Read more »

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Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the Alexandria SBDC, interviews Danielle Romanetti, owner of fibre space, at her Old Town shop.

 

This video is part of a three-part series created for Small Business Month, featuring interviews with Alexandria small business owners about the growth of their businesses and their experience working with the Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

 

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Store Fixture Design: Adding Technology Improves on an Already Good Thing

A relationship with a quality fixture manufacturer is essential for any retail architect. Just ask Bryce Sills and Heather Hislop from Ennco Display Group, one of our favorites!

A Concrete Problem – There is a surprise offspring of the new “borderless” retail paradigm that seems almost liberating because, finally, something can be defined in terms of a concrete problem. One having to do with store fixtures.

Is the Store Closing? – Did you notice that the merchandise in the drug store is all pulled forward on the shelf, implying – more than usual I mean – that the space in the back is not empty? When it starts to become so obvious that we begin to think that the store might be closing, it’s time for a change. Many retailers, even those embracing technology, are still stuck in the old “big box” store planning mentality, I hesitate to bring up Toys R Us again, but as Steve Dennis, writing for Forbes, tells us, “boring, undifferentiated, irrelevant and unremarkable stores are most definitely… dying…”

Curating an Inventory – The point being that changing the physical retail environment from a warehouse to a museum involves completely revisiting how an inventory is displayed and impacts the size and layout of a store. Curating an inventory, i.e., “show rooming,” means presenting it in terms of a multi faceted value proposition. It means incorporating a physical product into a marketing message using multiple and sometimes interactive types of media.

Multi Function – Suppose, for example, I walk into a store looking for new sunglasses. I walk over to the sun glass display and see that there are lots of frames and brands as well as examples of available coatings, lens colors, and an educational video about what all of these do. There might be a nearby kiosk allowing me to use my phone to access my eye wear history, insurance, prescriptions, exam dates and finally a scanned image of my face with recommended frame style, size, and shape. Maybe I find that there is an indicator on the store fixture that flashes when I pass an appropriate option based on the information in my profile. Once I find a frame, I am able to see other colors and finishes, check availability, see how much it costs, and read customer reviews right there on the display. I might then sit down with the optician so that he or she is able to give full attention to positioning the lens and finalizing my order. Sound improbable? Take a look at Amazonbooks in NYC and then say that.

Competing with Amazon – I understand that many retailers will neither want, nor be able to directly compete with Amazon. However, once a retailer gets over the initial shock, incorporating technology into a retail display program may not be as difficult as one would imagine; especially if the designer has a good working relationship with a store fixture fabricator experienced with the product line, offering a wide selection of standard interchangeable parts, and capable and willing to making adjustments. One such company is Ennco Display Group, who we have been pleased to work with in the past and recently met at Vision Expo in NYC. It is important to keep in mind that adding technology to an existing fixture is done to improve on an already good thing. All of the the thought, planning and testing that goes into creating a captivating visual display is not wasted because technology must be added to how it functions. Consider this: not only did Amazon go into an old Border’s space, but it also looks somewhat like Hudson News, who has been doing face out merchandise displays forever.

Teamwork – If you are a retailer thinking about introducing technology into a store design, my first recommendation would be not to over complicate what must be done. Examine resources already available to you, i.e. POS system providers, inventory system providers, advertising and media consultants. You are already their customer so ask them for help. See what functionality is already on your website and make sure it coordinates with what you will provide in the store. Finally once you have put your plan into writing, connect with a hardware/specialty consultant and introduce him/her to your design team. Team being the operative word. I think you will find that it is realistically possible to stay relevant in the “evolving” but never “disappearing” world of “bricks n mortar” retail.

Bridget Gaddis, is a Licensed Architect and LEED-accredited Professional practicing nationally, and locally in the Washington DC area. She holds professional degrees in both Architecture and Interior Design, and with a comprehensive background in commercial retail design, planning and construction has completed projects for such for such well known brands as Chloe, Zegna, and Bvlgari. Her career began in tenant coordination and site planning for two well-known Cleveland developers, followed by six years in store planning for a national retailer. After a move to New York City in 1997, she spent the next years working for architecture firms specializing in retail projects. In 2011 she started her own practice in Alexandria, VA. Ms. Gaddis is the author of two blogs dealing with architectural subjects.

Shop and celebrate locally this holiday season

This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on November 23, 2017. Much of our celebration of the holidays over the next few months is experienced through shopping, dining and entertainment. The goal each year is to minimize stress and fill the coming weeks with… Read more »

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This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on November 23, 2017.

Much of our celebration of the holidays over the next few months is experienced through shopping, dining and entertainment. The goal each year is to minimize stress and fill the coming weeks with the most enjoyable activities possible.

This year, there are even more neighborhood saround the region vying with Alexandria for shoppers and diners, but our community still compares favorably with the best of them. We are, after all, the authentic waterfront attraction whose stores, sidewalks and neighborhoods are steeped in history and distinctive character.

Our Visit Alexandria colleagues note that Alexandria was named one of America’s Top Holiday Towns by USA Today and a Top 10 Christmas Town by HGTV. They note that strolling historic King Street is like being in a real-life Dickens Village, and that throughout the city, shoppers can visit independent boutiques and chef-driven restaurants.

Rather than struggling through crowds in nondescript shopping centers, an Alexandria outing includes distinctive architecture and neighborhood character. Schedule breaks for lunch or refreshments, and imagine how many generations have shopped and dined along the same sidewalks or in the unique shopping nooks and crannies.

Your store experience is likely to be distinct, too, when you shop in genuine neighborhoods rather than in large malls or contrived town centers. In small stores, you’re more likely to be greeted when you enter, and you’ll find that the sales staff knows its stock and responds thoughtfully to questions. The prevalence of independent boutiques means you’re likely to meet the makers, get expert advice and find products curated by local owners who are often on site.

Alexandria retailers tell us that their staffs are not only more knowledgeable; they are typically more enthusiastic about working during the holiday season than their mall counterparts. Another added bonus — your gift purchases in these smaller stores are likely to be unique finds, and not something your recipients will see everywhere.

Alexandria’s “Black Friday” campaign on Nov. 24 and the “Small Business Saturday” promotion on Nov. 25 are great opportunities for all of us to make an extra effort to shop local this holiday season.

On Friday, more than 50 independent boutiques kick off the holiday season with one-of-a-kind deals. Enjoy special discounts throughout the day and stay for the Annual Tree Lighting Ceremony at 6 p.m. On Small Business Saturday, parking meters in Old Town and Del Ray will be free. There will be in-store activities, a Santa stroll on King Street, pop-up stores, surprise giveaways from an Elf Prize Patrol and holiday caroling.

The next day, visit your favorite historic Alexandria museums for the first-ever Museum Store Sunday. Find unique and historically inspired gifts with special offers, seasonal refreshments and more.

Don’t miss this opportunity to explore our local attractions, and we don’t have to limit our “shop local” focus to a few days around the holidays. We have an opportunity to support local businesses year round, and our community benefits every time we choose an independent retailer.

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Don’t overlook the construction details.

Customers notice the details. They can tell if a contractor has cut corners. The transition detail in B above was installed instead of the one shown in A below. As architects we can observe the construction and point out discrepancies, but it is the client that must insist that a contractor exactly follow the details shown on the construction drawings. It is to their advantage to do so.
This bargain-basement installation detail interferes with the nice contrast between the carpet and tile.

What makes a store look expensive? Way back in 2013 I wrote a post on this site asking if a higher price could be placed on merchandise because the store design looks expensive? The post was about the impact that a curved ceiling might be expected to have on what is generally considered inexpensive merchandise. I concluded that answering the question about pricing was related to how well the design feature performed, which in the particular case in questions was quite well. I bring this up again here because I want to consider the topic in a more subtle, yet possibly more important context, that being what makes a store design look expensive?

Customers notice everything. Answering this questions means that a retailer needs to pay attention to what people notice, which is everything, whether consciously or not. The importance of “creating a shopping experience” has been a fact of retail life for quite a while now. Back in 2013 one of the retail marketers summed it up nicely when she said, “..retailers should use stores to create a brand experience that customers couldn’t possibly get online.” She went on to cite the “old adage” that “retail is detail,” saying, “stores can engage all five senses;” the online world cannot. Few would argue that the perception of quality involves more that just an online image; that tactile contact with a product is critical, including how it is displayed; that successful retailers aspire to demonstrate quality in every possible aspect of their store, because quality sells, often for more.

The refined transition detail in image A above sends a message of quality, It is what we typically specify in this situation. This contractor exactly followed the details on the construction drawings with positive results.
A refined transition strip is barely there, putting the attention on the contrasting finish materials.

The importance of quality. Clearly, since sales are seen as directly effected, most retailers are acutely aware of the quality of products they bring to the market, including a range of related price points. This is their main business and most get it right. Merchandise displays, because they are driven by practicality, are also less prone to failures in quality. Matching their actual store environment, on the other hand, is where things can begin to fall apart. Finishes, In particular, are vulnerable. Think:

  • sagging carpet,
  • old leaks exposed and never repainted,
  • light fixtures with burned out lamps,
  • cheap, broken or mismatched ceiling tiles & floor tiles,
  • stained and dirty hvac supply and return air diffusers,
  • dirty windows.

Is it really possible that customers do not notice these things, that they do not reflect on the perceived merchandise quality, that they do not contribute to a customers notion of the brand? Another marketing pundit put is this way, ” a business should always strive and prove to be the best that money can afford because that solid reputation will establish a top brand that’s reliable and worthy of respect.” I couldn’t agree more.

Bridget Gaddis, is a Licensed Architect and LEED-accredited Professional practicing nationally, and locally in the Washington DC area. She holds professional degrees in both Architecture and Interior Design, and with a comprehensive background in commercial retail design, planning and construction has completed projects for such for such well known brands as Chloe, Zegna, and Bvlgari. Her career began in tenant coordination and site planning for two well-known Cleveland developers, followed by six years in store planning for a national retailer. After a move to New York City in 1997, she spent the next years working for architecture firms specializing in retail projects. In 2011 she started her own practice in Alexandria, VA. Ms. Gaddis is the author of two blogs dealing with architectural subjects.

It’s not too early to begin holiday planning

This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on August 24, 2017. Holidays are a wonderful time in Alexandria. The area is especially beautiful and festive from Halloween through Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Years and George Washington’s birthday. We have the prototypic neighborhoods and shopping streets that… Read more »

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This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on August 24, 2017.

Holidays are a wonderful time in Alexandria. The area is especially beautiful and festive from Halloween through Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Years and George Washington’s birthday. We have the prototypic neighborhoods and shopping streets that lend themselves to a holiday backdrop and spirit.

It’s never too early to start planning for the season. It’s Alexandria’s time to shine, and a critical time for retail revenue. Our colleagues at Visit Alexandria held a Holiday Planning Summit recently that incorporated a cross section of business, city government and economic development representatives. The theme of the summit was to continue building on Alexandria’s distinctive assets, attractions and charm – but also to take it up a notch for the approaching season.

Alexandria shopping districts face even stiffer competition this year from a broader variety of shopping options, and each of them are putting substantial efforts toward attracting their own shoppers and diners. Some of them are our f

Holiday Shopping in Alexandria

Photo Credit: James Cullum, courtesy ACVA

amiliar competitors but there are new venues for Alexandria to vie with. Washington D.C.’s The Wharf opens soon, billing itself as “the most exciting neighborhood in the history of the nation’s capital” and “a true waterfront destination.”

Many of our competitors have their own business improvement districts that plan, fund and oversee cohesive approaches to holiday décor, promotion and events. That coordinated approach often fashions a sophisticated holiday atmosphere and creates an appealing buzz for shoppers and diners.

Even without a central coordinator, Alexandria businesses and organizations are undertaking to work collaboratively to encourage individual merchants and business groups to up Alexandria’s holiday game with lighting, holiday designs, promotions and events. Holiday efforts are so much more spectacular when they are coordinated.

Alexandria has several things going for it. One of those is authenticity. Ours are the genuine charming neighborhoods and sidewalks where many generations have shopped and dined. Another of our strengths is our concentration of small businesses. Even while large retail chains downsize, there’s a growing appeal to shopping with small and unique, independent merchants.

There’s another trend toward experiential retail, and several of Alexandria’s merchants are regarded as destinations for their marketing and shopper experience. Hopefully, others will attain that status by refining their products or services, improving customer interaction, and upping their merchandising and marketing.

Alexandria Small Business Development Center provides specialized retail resources including store visits by retail, merchandising or food service experts; and educational programs on a variety of timely topics such as retail hiring, retail trends, and advertising on social media platforms. This fall we’ve engaged a window display and merchandising expert to guide merchants in developing their holiday decorating, lighting and merchandising strategies.

It takes extra effort to get into the spirit of the holidays in the dog days of summer, but the success of our long holiday season is worth it. As was said by that great philosopher, Roger Staubach, “It takes a lot of unspectacular preparation to have spectacular results in both business and football.”

Happy Holidays.

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Retail Doom & Gloom: Crisis or Opportunity?

Mid Year State of the Market: Maurisa Potts, in a mid year “state of the market” presentation sponsored by the Alexandria SBDC featured a headline stating, “Soft economy hitting big retailers hard.” There are, I might add, some small ones not doing too well either. Potts went on to note that online shopping is not the only reason for this, siting over built retail real estate, escalating rents, and shifts in consumer spending from goods to services. Whatever the reasons, there are few retailers not feeling the current uncertainty. This, according to Potts, begs the questions what is it, crisis or opportunity?

Clearly Unclear: I like this mindset. It presuppose important changes in the business model by which most retailers operate. Savvy retailers need little schooling on this topic, and outside of a reference list here, my interest is about how a physical store might be impacted. According to Potts the action takes place in three areas. The first two, customer focused retail and the resultant deep market analytics are technology driven. The third is the technology. Clearly the lines between the physical and digital store are becoming unclear. A retailer must decide which options to embrace:

mobile apps/enhanced mobile apps/personal concierge
smart navigation
mobile checkout
on demand customer service.
virtual fitting rooms
flexible fulfillment options
enhanced product information
community connections
target walk by shoppers
holographic product displays
delivery service
drones

Augmented Retail: Each of these items taken individually involves some type of electronic technology which must be both accommodated and invisible, a subject covered in previous posts so not detailed again here. Together, though, they define what is referred to as augmented retail, a situation with substance and influence on how a physical store will look. Rachel Shechtman, the founder of Story, a cutting edge store in Manhattan, described the design concept as a physical magazine. This is so telling. Store planners and designers have probably not seen such a revolutionary design idea since the emergence of big box retail. In the marketing world I would compare the trend to the early days of Martha Stewart Omnimedia which eventually consolidated her various publishing and media outlets into a single brand. It seems to have come full circle as omnimedia has finally found expression in bricks n mortar.

Design by Collaboration: Pick up a copy of your favorite magazine and flip it open to the index page. What do you see? I see an implied program for a store design, an outline of ways to engage the customer, often a recipe for co-creation where the customer participates in the outcome of his/her shopping trip. What combination of media, mobile apps, interactive displays, technology, and hard store design options a retailer chooses to bring into his/her store is a collaborative decision best made between the store designer, the retailer, the marketing team, and the all important technology consultants. When these things work together a really successful store can be the outcome.

The Positive Case for Bricks N Mortar: Barbara Thau, writing for Forbes, lists, “Five Signs That Stores (Not E-Commerce) Are the Future of Retail.” Worried retailers might do themselves a favor by considering the following:

“All But One Of The Top Ten U.S. Retailers Are Physical Chains

Stores Are More Profitable Than E-Commerce

Amazon Purchased Whole Foods

Millennials And Generation Z Prefer Real-Life Stores

Online Retailers Are Being Eaten By Legacy Retailers

Bridget Gaddis, is a Licensed Architect and LEED-accredited Professional practicing nationally, and locally in the Washington DC area. She holds professional degrees in both Architecture and Interior Design, and with a comprehensive background in commercial retail design, planning and construction has completed projects for such for such well known brands as Chloe, Zegna, and Bvlgari. Her career began in tenant coordination and site planning for two well-known Cleveland developers, followed by six years in store planning for a national retailer. After a move to New York City in 1997, she spent the next years working for architecture firms specializing in retail projects. In 2011 she started her own practice in Alexandria, VA. Ms. Gaddis is the author of two blogs dealing with architectural subjects.

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The 11 Basic Rules of Window & Interior Merchandising

Several days ago, visual merchandising expert DP Miller presented a workshop at the Alexandria SBDC on the 11 Basic Rules of Window & Interior Merchandising.  The speaker stressed that you must know the rules, and the reasons behind them, before you can “break” them.  This is the first of a three-part series on this subject… Read more »

The post The 11 Basic Rules of Window & Interior Merchandising appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

Several days ago, visual merchandising expert DP Miller presented a workshop at the Alexandria SBDC on the 11 Basic Rules of Window & Interior Merchandising.  The speaker stressed that you must know the rules, and the reasons behind them, before you can “break” them.  This is the first of a three-part series on this subject – upcoming sessions will occur in April and May and will go into more detail of the practical steps to be taken to have impressive displays.  More information about these sessions and registration will be listed on our events page.  A brief summary of the rules follows:

Rules 1 – 3 – The Relationship Rules

  • Rule 1 – Approachability: Avoiding the Wall
  • Rule 2 – Psychological Perspective: Removing Virtual Obstacles
  • Rule 3 – Shopability: Making it Easy

Rules 4 – 11 – Practical Merchandising

  • Rule 4 – Dynamic Presentation: The Waterfall Effect
  • Rule 5 – The Golden Pyramid: Giving and Playing with Height
  • Rule 6 – Repetition: Of Color, Shape, or Item
  • Rule 7 – Graphic Use of Color: To Pop, Contrast, or Playing with Shade
  • Rule 8 – Negative Space: Finding Rest in the Void
  • Rule 9 – An Odd Rule, or the Rule of Odds: Couples can be Boring
  • Rule 10 – The Golden Rule to Understanding Visual Weight:
    • Short to Long
    • Light to Dark
    • Left to Right
  • Rule 11 – One Less Line: Avoiding Visual Noise

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